Thursday, July 03, 2014

Authors Behaving Badly and Authors Who Aren't

So a bunch of legacy authors--many of them smart and who should know better--just signed a letter accusing Amazon of things that simply make no sense.

Some of the usual suspects are at the forefront. James Patterson, who continues to show he has no clue about how his own industry works. Scott Turow, whose tenure as president of the Authors Guild amounted to being a shill for Big Publishing. Douglas Preston, who once supported windowing ebook titles and keeping prices high.


Preston recently said:


"If I were Jeff Bezos, the one thing I would fear most is if authors organized themselves and took broad, concerted, sustained, and dignified public action."


Konrath replies:


"If I were Jeff Bezos, I would know that legacy authors have no power, because they signed away their rights to their publishers. Patterson, Turow, and Preston couldn't remove their books from Amazon even if they wanted to. But, strangely, I don't hear any of them demanding it, or even mentioning it."


Naturally, I'm going to fisk this letter. Then I'm going to link to a different sort of letter for authors to sign. Hugh Howey and I, along with Barry Eisler and others, have been fiddling with this letter for the last 24 hours, and it explains to readers what's really happening with the Amazon/Hachette dispute. 


But first, let's dispense some nonsense. The silly Douglas Preston letter is in bold italics, my responses in normal, level-headed font.


Amazon is involved in a commercial dispute with the book publisher Hachette, which owns Little Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints. These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a corporate back room.
But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms.
Joe sez: Amazon is engaged in blatant acts of capitalism. It hasn't "targeted authors". Last I checked, Jeff Bezos isn't sending authors hate mail, or hiring people to follow authors around and push them into puddles, or making public statements about how Hachette authors are boycotting common sense.
What Amazon is doing is not allowing Hachette to control ebook prices, because Hachette wants to raise them. That was the reason they colluded with other publishers. Hachette authors may think they are being targeted. They aren't. The publisher they signed away their rights to--Hachette--isn't being targeted, either. 
Amazon, as a retailer in a free market economy, can sell whatever it wants to sell. And guess what? It is STILL selling Hachette books.
For the past month, Amazon has been:
--Boycotting Hachette authors, refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette’s authors’ books, claiming they are “unavailable.”
Joe sez: Amazon isn't "boycotting" anything. This language, like "targeting authors" is misleading and purposely inflammatory. 
Amazon removed pre-order buttons on Hachette titles. And why wouldn't they? If Amazon and Hachette don't arrive at a deal they can both live with, Amazon will no longer be selling Hahcette titles, and wouldn't be able to fulfill those pre-orders.
Also, most indie authors don't have pre-order buttons. We're supposed to weep for legacy authors for losing something we don't even have?
--Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette’s authors’ books.
Joe sez: Welcome to the midlist, where NO authors are discounted.
Hachette is the one that prints the book prices on their books. Now Amazon is charging its customers the price Hachette sets--the same price indie bookstores charge their customers--and Amazon is "refusing to discount"?
Seriously?
Patterson, Turow, and Preston regularly have their books discounted. JA Konrath, along with the vast majority of midlist and indie authors, have never had a book discounted. 
But rather than blame their publisher for setting their book prices high, they blame Amazon for selling books at the price Hachette recommends.
How did smart authors agree to this nonsense?
--Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette’s authors’ books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.
Joe sez: Why would Amazon stock Hachette's books when they may not be selling any more Hachette books if a negotiation compromised can't be reached? If Amazon no longer sells Hachette, it would have to ship all of those unsold books back, and pay for shipping. 
Instead of doing that, Amazon is passing along the orders to Hachette as they come in. Hachette is the one that takes several weeks to fulfill orders. Hachette is the one who can't deliver quickly.
As writers—some but not all published by Hachette—we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.
Joe sez: Again, look at the purposely provocative, incendiary choice of words. ""block the sale of books" and "discourage customers" and "signal out a group of authors".
Amazon doesn't sell beer. Are they blocking the sale of beer? Amazon doesn't sell Glocks. Are they discouraging customers from buying Glocks? Amazon isn't signaling out a group of authors. They are in a business negotiation with the authors' publisher.
Hachette can end this at any time, by accepting Amazon's terms. Terms which are meant to keep book prices low, as Amazon just disclosed today.
Why aren't these authors blaming their numbskull publisher for this? If I signed a contract with a company who is supposed to make my books widely available, and that company can't come to terms with the LARGEST BOOKSELLER IN THE WORLD, I would be hiring a lawyer and getting my rights back.
Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be “Earth's most customer-centric company.”
Joe sez: Amazon isn't misleading customers. The authors who penned and signed this letter are misleading costumers with this nonsense.
In order to remain the Earth's most customer-centric company, Amazon itself said:
"When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers. Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term."
Did any of these authors even read Amazon's statement? Did they read the part where Amazon offered to compensate authors monetarily, and Hachette demurred?
All of us supported Amazon from when it was a struggling start-up. We cheered Amazon on. Our books started Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. 
Joe sez: And many of us continue to do so. Do you know why?
Because we kept our rights, and didn't allow morons like Hachette control them.
Also, I love the "we have made Amazon millions of dollars" silliness. You didn't form Amazon from the ground up. You didn't innovate the world's best online shopping experience. You didn't invent the Kindle.
Amazon has made YOU millions of dollars. Customers have chosen where and how they want to shop, and savvy writers have run with the advantages Amazon has offered us. 
This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. 
Joe says: Without taking sides?!?! This entire letter is about you taking sides!
Amazon isn't harming your livelihood. Your publisher, Hachette is. Because they care more about controlling book prices in the future than they do about selling your books in the present.
None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.)
Joe sez: Tonight: Hostage Crisis in Seattle! Later: The NYT and the WSJ: Will They Ever Report Real News Again?
Barry Eisler does his own fisk laying this nonsense to waste, and his Guardian piece refuted much of this.
We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.
Joe sez: The hurting, blocking, and delaying are Hachette's fault. But you guys are too frightened of your own publisher to confront them, and too dependent on Amazon to make any real kind of stand and demand Hachette pull your titles from Amazon's virtual shelves.
Instead, you write this silly, stupid letter that misrepresents the issues and blames the wrong party.
You signed your Hachette contracts. You made your beds. Lie in them. Stop spreading nonsense and trying to gain public sympathy with your sob story of multi-million dollar authors whose books are no longer discounted. It's pathetic, beneath you, and disingenuous.
We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, c.e.o and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails from this account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind.
We respectfully ask you, readers and writers, to read a letter that explains what's really happening with Hachette and Amazon.
Please read it, sign it, link to it, Tweet it, blog about it, discuss it, and help Stop the Stupid.

Addendum:

Preston posted his letter, with its 69 author signatures

http://www.prestonchild.com/storage/med/preston/220_AmazonStatement.pdf 

In about two hours, our petition has over 500 signatures.

Make that 3 hours, 1100 signatures.

Make that 3337 signatures. Preston has upped his to 388.

Note to Mr. Bezos: I apologize on behalf of my peers for those 388 authors protesting Amazon's behavior. They despise your actions so much that the right thing to do may be to remove their buy buttons, so they no longer have to endure your cruel, monopolistic ways. After all, when a relationship sours, the best thing for both parties is to sever all ties.